The Great Migration was the mass movement of about five million southern blacks to the north and west between 1915 and 1960. During the initial wave the majority of migrants moved to major northern cities such as Chicago, Illiniois, Detroit, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and New York, New York. By World War II the migrants continued to move North but many of them headed west to Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, California, Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington.
The first large movement of blacks occurred during World War I, when 454,000 black southerners moved north. In the 1920s, another 800,000 blacks left the south, followed by 398,000 blacks in the 1930s. Between 1940 and 1960 over 3,348,000 blacks left the south for northern and western cities.
The economic motivations for migration were a combination of the desire to escape oppressive economic conditions in the south and the promise of greater prosperity in the north. Since their Emancipation from slavery, southern rural blacks had suffered in a plantation economy that offered little chance of advancement. While a few blacks were lucky enough to purchase land, most were sharecroppers, tenant farmers, or farm labors, barely subsiding from year to year. When World War I created a huge demand for workers in northern factories, many southern blacks took this opportunity to leave the oppressive economic conditions in the south…
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(Click on the Crash Course video below to get a great sense of the enormous migration of African-Americans in the United States)